Adam Henderson interviews Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project Brewer Dann Paquette on the November 15th, 1901 “KK” beer from their “Once Upon a Time Series”. Just in case you don’t know, this is an accurate historical recreation of a beer actually brewed in London, England on the aforementioned date. Dann doesn’t interpret or modify the recipe, he just brews it the way it was done; kind of like a band playing a cover song, except it’s a song you’ve never heard before.
AH: You clearly put a lot of thought in what you’re going to brew, but where did this “Once Upon a Time” idea come from?
DP: “Once Upon a Time” came from the desire to work with Ron Pattinson for one. We had a few great conversations with him whilst visiting Belgium and Amsterdam back when we were living not too far away in the UK. The stuff we brew with Pretty Things is basically our takes on things we’ve been inspired by. So this gives us an opportunity to step back and with zero creativity recreate beers from the past.
AH: How does the process of selecting a recipe work, and could you give us an example of the criteria you use to determine which ones you’ll actually attempt?
DP: I don’t understand the use of “attempt”? We actually do follow through and brew it. Anyway, we’re looking for something that not only doesn’t exist anymore but also plays with our very modern notion of “style”. Whether you go around the internet, or take the BJCP exam, or read brewing literature these days you get the notion that these set of styles we know today were invented and carved in stone a long, long time ago. If you read what Ron’s digging up it quickly becomes obvious that style is more like a moving target that changes with the taste, technology, economy and laws of the given moment. I’m reading his almost 700 page book “Porter!” right now and it is amazing how unstable any definition is. I think it’s sad that we’re stuck forever with a 1970’s revisionist version of what beers are supposed to be – even the notion of beer styles themselves.
So we’re looking for confirmation that the beer world was just as interesting and inventive back then as it is today.
AH: How many recipes like the “KK” and “Mild” does a guy like Ron Pattinson have access too, and from what time periods?
I don’t think there are many guys like Ron. But he has access to hundreds or thousands of brewsheets. How many more would be interesting to brew? Probably many hundreds. I think he roughly starts in the late 18th century and goes to the 1950s. All in England of course, or mostly.
AH: I didn’t mean it that way, but I would agree, not many guys like Ron!
AH: How else is Ron involved, does he consult on methods and techniques that may have been employed?
Ron is very involved actually. These brewsheets are really meant to be relevant to the brewers and their bosses. The volumes are in quarters and others that I am not familiar enough with to figure out. The handwriting and abbreviations are also hard to read. Most are parti-gyles which confuses quite a bit. Even the raw materials can be tough to figure. I mean, what are Gaza hops like? Ron is the guy who makes the recipe relevant to us.
AH: What’s the most challenging part of brewing these?
DP: For us the most challenging is the amount of hops used back then. The KK was a 45 barrel batch of beer with over $5500 worth of hops in it. I think it had an 88 pound bittering charge. The Mild was similar. We actually used all whole leaf for that one and really did a number on the brewhouse. I think it took three days to clean it all up, never mind the pumps and valves we clogged.
The other challenging part is knowing that palates have changed so much since then that unless the drinker is educated the entire beer go down unappreciated.
AH: What if someone tries to do this with one of your beers 150 years from now? Is your record keeping as good as your brewing ancestors?!
DP: That’s an original question! I wonder if I’m doing anything worthy of being recreated in 2160? Let’s let that question float around in the ether and maybe someone in a space suit or a cloned version of Sam Calagione will find one of my recipes and brew it in the future.
AH: Hahaha, I bet Future-Sam would totally do that.
AH: What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned by going through this process?
DP: The most interesting thing is a surprise. We taste the KK and think of it as a specialty sipper, but the Edwardians in London drank it everyday it the pub – KK was a normal style back then. Who were these people who drank beers like that every day? Just amazing to think about it.
AH: Are there any interesting beers you’ve uncovered during this process that you can tell us about, without ruining future surprises, of course!?
DP: Well, we flew Ron over from Amsterdam for the launch of the KK in Boston and let me tell you… we spent the first night drinking, the second day on a 10 hour pub crawl, the third day in a 9 hour launch event, then went out to dinner afterward. The entire time he was talking about possible beers to brew. There are a lot of ideas. I suggest going to his website, buy his books and brew some yourselves. Most of it is right there.